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Winchester vs Eton

(21 Posts)
AppleSetsSail Fri 11-Mar-16 15:47:23

We met with my son's head yesterday re: secondary schools. I had an idea that I would like him to sit for Winchester, and they have steered us firmly away from it in favour of Eton, which they say is an excellent fit.

I have a vague understanding that Winchester is for the more eccentric/quirky boy. Can anyone weigh in with a more meaningful distinction?


BabyGanoush Fri 11-Mar-16 15:53:17

why not visit the place, with your son? To see if you can picture him there?

happygardening Fri 11-Mar-16 17:25:53

Many moons ago when I was thin, could eat what I liked and not greying rapidly the then head (a very knowledgable man when it came to senior schools) at DS2's boarding prep (he was just starting year 3) recommended we looked at Westminster and Winchester for my DS, our preference was for SPS. His rational was that my "very" bright DS was eccentric and therefore those two were the ones to consider. This was weird for me because I always thought he was quite normal in comparison with his very eccentric parents and frankly barking older brother! Those were in the days when the prep sent loads to Eton and very few to either Westminster or Winchester and none to SPS for 40 years. This was also backed up by his then form teacher who's own DS was at Eton at the time, she had rejected Winchester for her son because of its unashamedly intellectual, over and above everything else, ethos, but she thought it would suit my DS very well.
This head retired and the new one suggested we consider both Eton and Winchester which we did. At Winchester they generally have an open day once a year, which we attended with great enthusiasm and left completely under whelmed, the school has this "this is us take it or leave it" ethos, the faculties are frankly shabby in places, most of the staff were friendly but again made no effort to sell the place to us and the boys I felt were uninterested in the adults they met. I couldn't see what all the fuss was about. We nearly didn't pursue it any further but we'd made appoibtments to meet three HMs a few days later and it seemed rude to cancel at the last minute. Eton (and SPS) by contrast runs regular guided tours, IMO it's a massive marketing exercise every other sentence was "at Eton ...." "at Eton.... " the facilities were stunning, the grounds immaculate, the boys very friendly although the biscuits were cheap! You leave in no doubt about what Etons ethos is.
We did keep our Winchester visits and after three visits including a meal in a boarding house when I sat with the boys whilst they ate their lunch, and I challenged various teachers I met about the quality of the art, the extra curricular activities on offer and other things gradually what it's all about started to fall into place. One teacher who'd spent some time with my DS said to me "...he's perfect for Winchester. He's a bit of a lone wolf and we like lone wolves here" In the schools recent ISI report (which I haven't generally got much time for) they commented that when asked the boys said that the school allowed them to be themselves and that differences were positively encouraged. 9 years later and he's got just over 1 term to go, he is a slightly eccentric lone wolf, he's no team player, like all teenagers he's had his ups and downs, and like many I meet at Winchester he is slightly reserved with those he doesn't know, Winchester was the right place for him it's ethos has suited him 100%. It will always put academia above everything else, most sport will never be particularly strong, but for the genuinely intellectual boy it provides a very intellectual environment where learning for the sake of learning is much more important than exams and their related syllabuses. My heavily science oriented DS I'm delighted to say talks with passion and clarity about music of all types, art, politics, current affairs, philosophy both ancient and current, literature (he's no reader by nature but he happily and enthusiastically quotes and discusses with us everything from Mallory and Shakespeare through Goethe, Hardy, Sasson to Satre) and even wine, all mainly learnt in the daily Div lesson (a non examined curriculum which is extra ordinarily wide reaching and basically guided by the div don teaching it and the boys in the classroom). Over the years a few have said to me that; their DS's find the atmosphere "too serious", for example there's no drama in the curriculum, it's an extra curricular activity although I have to say every performance we've ever attended has been amazing and you opt in to music, "there's no fun", that they feel their DS's are "under huge pressure" they wish sport was more of a "priority" for the school, and that they think the harder Pre U's are just "too difficult", that it's just a "point scoring exercise" on behalf of the school and only really suited to the super bright, everyone else has to really work their nuts off to be I with a shout of the get top grades, my DS has not found any of this by the way. Also if you don't fancy it's hands off parenting ethos, or maybe you want a school where there's more social function for parents (thankfully not many of those at Winchester), or maybe you love school uniform and smart branded PE kits etc and are a stickler for its full implementation, if any of this bothers or matter to you or you DS you should look somewhere else, there are lots and lots of other excellent schools happy to provide it. But if you want a truely intellectual environment, where your DS can also truly be himself, that provides an exceptionally liberal environment, which surprisingly few rules, and where IMO and experience the pastoral care is excellent then I believe Winchester remains in a class of its own and in this day and age where regulation and parental pressures for top exam results and top sporting results and the perfect education all encompassing education has actually homogenised education it remains truly unique.
Do PM me if you want to know more.

IndridCold Fri 11-Mar-16 18:21:30

Plenty of eccentric and quirky boys at Eton. Many different areas of talent and types of personality, musicians, sportsmen, geeks and actors all well represented.

I agree that you should go and look at both schools, and see which one feels right for you. Don't be deterred by the above account of the Eton visit, it will still give you a pretty good idea of how the school works. happy's version doesn't mean that it is not a useful tour, it merely indicates that Eton was not the right school for her DS

happygardening is a fine advocate for the advantages and excellent qualities of Winchester, but her opinion of Eton is openly biased (she has stated many times on this forum that she detests and loathes everything about the place). You may end up agreeing with her, or you may not, but you may want to take some other views (most importantly your own) into account before making your decision.

happygardening Fri 11-Mar-16 18:27:55

I hope I give a honest warts and all opinion of Winchester. And I am open in my opinion that Eton is not my cup of tea by any stretch of the imagination, it would not have been right for my DS or is as parents. But I accept many love Eton and can't sing its praises high enough you will read very few if any even remotely negative comments about it on here. Although I have heard the odd surprising thing from other current parents.

happygardening Fri 11-Mar-16 19:22:44

Indrid is right don't be deterred by my view of the Eton visit. As I said you'll leave in no doubt about what it's all about and for me it absolutely comfirmed it was not the right school for us! When we went three other sets of parents from DS's prep also went, 1 couldn't fill in the registration for quick enough 1 was ambiviliant, 2 of us knew it wasn't for us.

AppleSetsSail Fri 11-Mar-16 20:41:32

Wow, thanks for those very thoughtful responses - I really appreciate them. I think I do need time to digest.

My older son, who is going to Westminster, is what I'd consider a true eccentric. The boy in question (my youngest) by contrast is more of a joiner, an athlete, an all-rounder, comfortable in social settings. He's equally intelligent - but with a maths/science bent rather than a humanities one - but he doesn't radiate it in the same way (sorry for the wankery comment).

HG I gather you find Eton too glossy. I really need to visit properly.

thanks Ingrid for the balancing comment.

Eton2017 Fri 11-Mar-16 21:16:28

Definitely go and see. We were in what sounds like a similar position, feeling that Winchester was the obvious place for our DS but with his school strongly recommending we looked at Eton. We took some persuading to go and see Eton, but as far as we can tell before he actually starts, they were right; while it was clear to us when we visited that Winchester was an excellent school, Eton was the place that we quickly all felt DS could be very happy at.

Concretely, two of the differences that feel quite important to us are:

- own room (Eton) vs dormitories (Winchester)

- must have a computer (Eton) vs must not have a computer (Winchester) [if W haven't changed their policy yet - that one's hard to believe in 2016!]

happygardening Sat 12-Mar-16 12:13:53

OP you're right I did find Eton to "glossy" it's just not us, didn't match with our ethos on life, this is no criticism of those who like it.
Eton2017 I too was worried about the IT at Winchester, SPS in contrast made all boys do the European Computer Driving Course in their first year, for someone who didn't have computers in their childhood and who only understands an 1/8 of even what an iPad can do this seems such a sensible thing to do. I remember asking the boys at the lunch what they thought they seemed surprisingly unbothered and my DS doesn't seem to lack computing skills in fact I wish he'd be a little computer illiterate grin . The dorms versus single rooms is an interesting one. It was one of the things we didn't like about Eton, for us boarding is about communal living, living eating sharing space with others, I believe that these skills are essential life skills, DS2 after 11 years of boarding believes that friendships are made in dorms, boys who you think you haven't got time for and thus make no effort to know better in a busy day are seen in a different way. He's now in a single room and said he preferred sharing. I've kicked around quite a few boarding schools and observed the pupils, it's very obvious there's a very strong sense of cameraderie at Winchester that I don't always see at others, a new don who's worked in quite a few other schools, I think including Eton, also made a similar comment to my DS. I wonder if the way the boys live, in a relatively small space, sharing dorms, the autonomy of the HM's, the significant variation between houses, all eating in the same house contributes to this? Interestingly the same don also commented on the relationships between the boys and the dons, which they also felt was pretty unique and one of Winchesters defining strengths.
Eton will have other strengths of course, particularly those that might tick the right boxes for a "joiner and athlete" although I'm sure there are some of those at Winchester as well.

AppleSetsSail Sat 12-Mar-16 13:02:42

Interesting about the single rooms. If I recall correctly this is typically a priviledge afforded older boys in positions of leadership at boarding school?

On the face of it, I prefer communal rooms which seem more likely to foment strong bonds.

How does the no computer policy work on a day to day basis? Are the boys learning the Dewey Decimal system and using a card catalogue at the library? Sounds radical (in a good way). wink

Eton2017 Sat 12-Mar-16 13:34:34

I think it really depends on the child. Mine (like his mother) is strongly introverted - though he likes people, he does much better if he has plenty of opportunities to get away from them! I think boarding will be great for developing his people skills, and agree that they're extremely important, but it'll be challenging enough, I think, without also sharing a room.

I understand W boys are allowed to use computers, just not to have their own (in the first year or two). Yes, I'm sure they are computer literate, in much the same way they'd still know how to use hot showers if you told them they could only bathe in the river ;-) At the end of the day both these schools are really excellent, and much of what we're doing in choosing between them is rationalising gut feel about what will suit our individual children, I'm sure.

happygardening Sat 12-Mar-16 13:51:50

There are two or three communal computers in house but for the first two years all work is hand written unless you have dyslexia etc. there's currently no WiFi. I've no idea how the library works.
Winchester is in some ways very old fashioned, Id be the first to admit that at times it feels like its living in a bygone era, and as someone who loved SPS which is so obviously the complete opposite I wasn't sure how I feel about this, this was a real concern for me, but I've surprised myself by finding I rather like it. But in others ways its very progressive because its very liberal and tolerant.

sendsummer Sat 12-Mar-16 15:06:12

My DS remarked recently that boarders need to learn to give each other space when needed ie in communal living interpreting the signals equivalent to going into a single room, closing the door firmly (possibly with a keep-out sign). New boarders don't necessarily understand this and can be annoying by forcing conversation when somebody actually wants a bit of peace to be grumpy (or whatever) by themselves. With that proviso he and others much preferred dormitories and double rooms due to the companionship and fun when going to bed and getting up together. Dormitories and double rooms are particularly good for boarders who might otherwise find it harder to start friendships. Quite a few universities including in the States provide double rooms and many strong student friendships are started that way.

The advantage of not having computers or access to WiFi is the ability to develop the habit sustained concentration when studying during early teenage years. I am not saying that is not possible when DCs have computers just that for some it is much harder.

happygardening Sat 12-Mar-16 18:19:58

One year when DS1 was at prep the school had this brilliant idea that they would put all 19 boys in one huge dorm, I think they were yr 7, the head of boarding was worried they wouldn't like it. But au contraire they absolutely loved it and had an absolute ball, midnight feast, pillow fights, teddy fights by the first exeat in Septemver they had spit them up into three smaller dorms as no one was going to bed before midnight.
Dorm raids and pillow fights etc are de rigour for 1st years at senior school.
I know of a couple of mums with DS's at Eton who found it hard in the beginning to make friends, one openly wondered if being in a single room was not helping, and with less and less boarding in the more cosseted environment of a prep I wonder whether if more and more are finding it hard to settle into boarding (at any school) obviously a lot depends on the individual child and also those in the same year/house.

IndridCold Sat 12-Mar-16 19:01:35

A parent's view on this issue can be different from that of the boys'. I have had a couple of conversations with DS and friends about this over the years, and I would be prepared to bet that not many Etonians would prefer to have dorms over single rooms. That includes his friend who was so incredibly shy that he didn't emerge from his shell and start speaking to other boys in his house until year 11.

Having been to both a house play and house concert over the last few months, I have seen no sign of any lack of house camaraderie in DS's house, and by all accounts they spend quite a bit of time in and out of each other's rooms, (occasionally for nefarious purposes like some unauthorised furniture rearrangement.)

Sharing a dorm certainly can help with getting to know people, in the first few weeks in particular. DS enjoyed sharing dorms with his friends, but what he didn't enjoy so much was being dorm captain, and having to share with younger boys while his friends were all together in another dorm.
He is still quite happy to share, and even enjoys it, when they go on school trips etc., but I doubt you would ever get him to give up his single room, not even to share with his best mates.

sendsummer Sat 12-Mar-16 19:35:24

Indrid I think generally DCs are always enthusiastic advocates of the system they are in, whether dormitories versus single rooms or which house they are part of in a boarding school or even boarding school versus day. Also if the single rooms from year 9 appeal to a boy and parents when looking around then may be that is self selecting for what they are happy with when they are there
My DS has also has great camaraderie with boys from other houses especially when they are doing a school play or in a team together or visiting each other's houses. In fact he would say that he has very strong friends outside his house, people he would choose to be friends with anyway. However the relationships in the house through sharing rooms in younger years means getting to know those boys when completely relaxed whether natural friends or not. That has allowed at least my DS to have an appreciation of unexpected strengths of different characters which he will now be more open to when he meets new people. Obviously single rooms are great when they want peace and quiet but that might encourage the easy option of withdrawing rather than teenagers working out how to handle the less ideal situations.

Being separated from your friends with younger boys in a shared room would not be a popular option at prep or senior school however dressed-up it is as a position of responsibility.

AppleSetsSail Sat 12-Mar-16 19:37:37

sendsummer is your son at Winchester?

sendsummer Sat 12-Mar-16 19:41:18

AppleSetsSail I'll pm you.

Themodernuriahheep Sat 12-Mar-16 19:53:27

It's horses for courses. For the right boy, Winchester is perfect. IMV, but I expect to get flamed, he'd be less happy at Eton unless in College. For the wrong boy, Winchester is disastrous in a way that I don't think Eton necessarily is.

You must be academically top notch even if you are not in College. If you are not, the Dons are not interested, in some cases, and they are very clear that if you don't get the GCSE grades you are out. That's true of other schools too, but enforced rigorously with limited politesse. The pastoral care also has an interesting aspect, it's v much more like the approach taken in my youth, you grow through it. That's not say that it isn't there in crises, but they expect boys to use the freedom to grow up, which suits some and not others.

I ought to day I am not a parent as DS decided not to go there, to my regret, but I am an aunt 2x .

Ralph Townsend. is leaving, can't recall who is taking over as Head Man. RT has divided opinion.

I am def a WinColl fan. But for the right boy. Ds would have prob been fine, hence my regrets.

IndridCold Sat 12-Mar-16 20:19:25

I don't disagree with you summer, but there have been assertions on previous threads on this subject, that the only sure-fire way to make good friends at boarding school is by sharing a dorm, and I do take issue with that. Neither am I claiming that single rooms are always better than sharing. In our case, when it came to choosing a school, the sleeping arrangements weren't even remotely a deciding factor, they just were what they were.

I would go so far as to admit that, before DS started, I had some reservations that single rooms might not necessarily be an unalloyed plus. However, we are now four years in and this has proved not to be the case. My DS settled in straight away, with no problem. He has made many friends from sports teams, lessons, music ensembles and CCF, as well as in house. There is still ample opportunity to learn how to share space with annoying other boys, as the ongoing saga of C block kitchen will attest. And finding himself on a trip abroad with some unfamiliar and rather wild boys gave him the opportunity to hone those skills a bit further. I would say that he has more, and closer friends at Eton than he did sharing at prep school, although being older and more mature could also be a factor in that.

sendsummer Sat 12-Mar-16 21:30:23

Indrid parents of DCs in day schools would also say that their DCs make plenty of friends and learn how to deal with annoying people. I completely agree that you don't need to be in a boarding school dormitory to do that. However it has been a definite positive for my DS.

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